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Finding the fiscal facts in these times of change

Denver Business JournalOn the Money
From the  June 5, 2009 print edition

It’s tough to recall a time with so much overlap between government and private business enterprise.

Government monetary and fiscal activities are drawing more attention than ever. Relationships that previously were devoutly separate have begun to merge. For example, auto union workers are being transformed into shareholders, and banks now plead to return money to the government rather than accept it.

The terms “public” and “private” are becoming hard to distinguish. Witness the most recent initiative by the U.S. Department of the Treasury – the Public Private Partnership Investment Program (PPPIP). A new word, “privblic,” may enter the financial glossary.

As government’s commercial activities become more integral to private business, they reach down into everyone’s daily life to a greater degree than ever.

It may not be enough to rely only upon the media to provide a meaningful synthesis of these new and untested activities and relationships. Access to information at its source is critical to finding clarity.

Here are some resources that will aid in gathering, evaluating and making objective decisions regarding current government economic activities.

– In March, the U.S. Treasury Department launched a new website,http://financialstability.gov.

It’s designed to showcase the primary mission of the U.S. Treasury Department and its financial stability plan. The site consolidates news, program announcements, agency publications and research data.

It also provides an excellent glossary of rapidly changing and frequently used terms and acronyms.

Furthermore, the site groups the major components of the financial stability plan, along with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, into these more easily accessible categories:

1) Plan; 2) Programs; 3) Making Homes Affordable; 4) Capital Assistance; 5) Regulatory Reform; 6) Public-Private Investment; 7) Consumer and Business Lending; and 8) Small Business and Community. To find these topics, visi thttp://financialstability.gov/roadtostability/index.html.

– Of course, underneath all of this is the national budget. On Oct. 1, the United States enters its 2010 fiscal year. The president will submit a new budget to Congress for approval.

The official budget may be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget.

The Office of Management and Budget, whose mission is to help the president oversee the preparation of the federal budget and to supervise its administration within the 16 executive branch agencies, creates and maintains the site’s information.

The office also ensures that agency reports, rules, testimony and proposed legislation are consistent with the president’s budget and with administration policies.

In addition to presenting the current proposed budget, the website also contains analytical and comparative tools, such as:

1) Summary of Terminations, Reductions and Savings; 2) Analytical Perspectives; 3) Summary Tables; 4) Historical Tables; 5) Supplemental Materials; and (6) Other Supplements.

Another important information source is the Information & Regulatory Affairs and Statistical Programs & Standards page.

– At http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg_statpolicy, there’s a wealth of data regarding everything from economic indicators to studies on race and ethnicity. Furthermore, the standards used to create the studies are presented. These standards are intended to ensure integrity and objectivity in analysis. President Barack Obama also accepts email viahttp://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.

– While the above references are partisan, and may contain the creators’ bias, there are two more impartial sources. They are the Federal Reserve Board at https://www.federalreserve.gov, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce at http://www.bea.gov/index.htm.

The Federal Reserve Board site allows access primarily to monetary data. Under Economic Research & Data (https://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata), hundreds of reports and analysis projects are available.

Of note is the site’s data download program, which is designed to provide interactive access to Federal Reserve Board data, allowing users to create custom datasets downloadable in machine-readable electronic formats such as MS-Excel, CSV and XML.

Publications are also available from the Federal Reserve site that contain up-to-the-minute reports from the Federal Open Market Committee and information regarding recent Federal Reserve Board actions.

The site, http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/recentactions.htm, may be the best and most concise early-warning source of economic information.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis focuses its presentations on fiscal data, and groups its analysis into these categories: 1) National; 2) International; 3) Regional; and 4) Industry.

As with the Federal Reserve site, the bureau provides an interactive tool athttp://www.bea.gov/interactive.htm. One of the best indicators of economic viability may be found in the Contributions to Percent Change in Real Gross Domestic Product report.

With so much movement and change happening in our financial and economic systems, and the dramatic shift in government involvement brought on by the current administration, it’s vital to know where to obtain basic information that’s understandable and unfiltered.

© C. Stephen Guyer for American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.